Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Will Personality Disorders Jeopardize Our Future

A story with profound implications for America's future came to my attention the other day, and I suspect many folks either did not see it or failed to grasp its importance.

In fact, I almost read right over it myself.

Is it about the economy, the bailout, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the new Hannah Montana Tour?

No, it might be more important than all of those stories.

The subject is personality disorders. And researchers now say that almost one in five young American adults has a personality disorder that interferes with everyday life.

These range from obsessive and compulsive behaviors to antisocial behavior that can lead to violence. The study also found that fewer than 25 percent of college-aged Americans with mental-health problems get treatment.

When substance abuse is counted, the study found that nearly half of young people surveyed have some sort of psychiatric condition.

Scientists generally recognize 10 types of personality disorders, and they are grouped into three clusters.

Perhaps the most alarming of these afflictions is antisocial personality disorder, which has been found to be very common in our nation's prison population.

Antisocial personality disorder, also called sociopathy or psychopathy, basically refers to a lack of empathy for the rights and feelings of other people. It is notoriously difficult to treat, partly because those who have it almost never acknowledge that they have a problem. It's the people around them--family members, neighbors, coworkers--who suffer.

We've taken a serious interest in antisocial personality disorder here at Legal Schnauzer--we've written about it several times--because I strongly suspect our blog is filled with stories that are driven by people who have this condition.

I'm not a doctor, of course, and I'm not qualified to diagnose psychiatric disorders. But if a knowledgeable person were to start at the first post on this blog and read carefully up to today, I bet they could identify a number of key characters who are sociopaths.

And I'm not talking just about certain characters in my personal story. I strongly suspect the Don Siegelman case in Alabama and the Paul Minor case in Mississippi were driven by sociopaths. The same goes for the firings of nine U.S. attorneys. In fact, my guess is that the entire Bush administration has been a breeding ground for sociopathy.

What does this recent study mean for our country? I think it means that our already turbulent society is about to become even rockier.

Personal experience tells me that coming in contact with people who have personality disorders makes life much harder than it should be. For example, if you take people with personality disorders out of the equation, my wife and I never set foot in a courtroom--except maybe as potential jurors--and never experience any of the ugly events described in this blog.

Take people with personality disorders out of the equation, and I'm still contentedly--and effectively--working at UAB.

Personality disorders are not just about the irritation and frustration they cause. They also are expensive. Just my little episode has cost my wife and me, taxpayers, and society in general tens of thousands of dollars--both in real costs and in lost productivity.

One qualm I have about this new study is its focus on young people. I think personality disorders already are a major problem, in all age groups.

And who knows? Maybe those of us in our 40s, 50s, and 60s are creating a culture that causes these disorders to take hold in our next generation.

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